Making a rare public appearance just a few short months before facing a retrial for sexual assault allegations in April, comedian Bill Cosby performed before a small crowd in Philadelphia Monday evening.
Cosby’s performance before a largely friendly crowd at LaRose Jazz Club for an event honoring jazz drummer Tony Williams comes as the public reckoning surrounding sexual assault and misconduct ushered in by the #MeToo movement continues. In a few months, Cosby is set to face a new trial for allegedly drugging and assaulting former Temple University women’s basketball coach Andrea Constand. She is one of nearly 60 women who have come forward to recount their stories of Cosby drugging, harassing, or sexually assaulting them.
The New York Times notes that while Monday night’s event was open to the public, it was only announced a few hours before it began.
For nearly an hour, Cosby told jokes and stories about his past, at one point playing with the jazz band inside the venue.
He did not mention the sexual assault allegations against him.
Bill Cosby, sitting on a stool in a hoodie at a Philly jazz club, telling stories and working the crowd. No mention yet of his looming trial on sexual assault charges. pic.twitter.com/D7qldKi79B— Bobby Allyn (@BobbyAllyn) January 23, 2018
Bill Cosby plays the drums pic.twitter.com/VDwTvCtxfY— Jeremy Roebuck (@jeremyrroebuck) January 23, 2018
At one part of his set, a child in the audience came onstage for an exchange with Cosby, who asked the 11-year-old boy if he knew who he was.
“You used to be a comedian?” the boy responded.
“I used to be a comedian?” Cosby said with mock exasperation, according to Philly.com. “You can sit down now.”
Why is Bill Cosby facing another trial?
In recent years, Cosby’s comedic persona has been surmounted by a wave of sexual assault allegations spanning decades. While allegations were lodged against Cosby publicly for years, the mass public outrage about them gained traction after a performance by the comedian Hannibal Buress in Philadelphia in 2014. Dozens of women, some of whom had shared their stories of assault in the years prior, would accuse the comedian and Cosby Show patriarch of sexual assault in the years ranging from the early 1960s to 2008, igniting a cultural debate about rape and assault that touched on issues of race, celebrity, and changing attitudes about consent.
The majority of these accusations could not be heard in court due to being past the statute of limitations, but Constand’s accusations fell within the window. Constand first accused Cosby of assault more than a decade ago, but prosecutors eventually dropped the case, and the two settled out of court. However, after an old, sealed deposition in which Cosby disclosed that he drugged Constand was brought to light by the New York Times, Cosby faced three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault, which are at the center of last year’s trial and the upcoming retrial.
In January 2004, Constand was visiting Cosby at his home, seeking career advice, when she told Cosby she was feeling stressed. That’s when, she says, he gave her three pills, telling her they’d take the edge off. When she asked if they were herbal, he reportedly said, “Yes. Down them.”
After taking the pills and drinking wine at Cosby’s urging, Constand testified, her vision became blurry and her speech slurred. Cosby then went on to grope and digitally penetrate her, and also guided her hand to touch his genitals, she said. Hours later, Constand said, she awoke in his house with her clothing askew. Cosby greeted her in a robe, gave her a muffin, and walked her out of his house.
Constand reported the ordeal to local authorities in 2005, a year after it was alleged to have taken place. Cosby was questioned, and claimed the sexual acts were consensual. (Even before this incident, Constand said she refused Cosby’s advances from him two other times but wrote it off as flirting.) When the news of Constand’s allegations first went public in early 2005, California attorney Tamara Green appeared on the Today show shortly after with a similar story about how Cosby gave her pills to help with a fever, and then sexually assaulted her in her apartment.
Cosby denied both allegations, and then–Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor said Constand’s case lacked enough evidence to move forward. Constand, who had moved back to Toronto at that point, filed a civil complaint against Cosby. Thirteen women had come forward to Constand and were mentioned in her case as Jane Doe witnesses.
Ultimately only one woman joined Constand in providing testimony against Cosby, who notably did not take the stand in his defense. After six days of deliberations, the trial resulted in a hung jury and ended in a mistrial last year. After a delay as Cosby’s legal team reconfigured, the case is set to be retried this April in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, and jury selection will begin at the end of March.
Last week, the New York Times reported that prosecutors have asked Judge Steven T. O’Neill, who oversaw the previous Cosby trial and will handle the retrial this April, that 19 additional women be allowed to share stories of their encounters with Cosby during the upcoming trial. They argue that their testimony will help corroborate things previously questioned when Constand took the stand.
“This evidence is relevant,” the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office argued in a court filing, “to establish that an individual who, over the course of decades, intentionally intoxicated women in a signature fashion and then sexually assaulted them while they were incapacitated, could not have been mistaken about whether or not Ms. Constand was conscious enough to consent to the sexual contact.”
The Cosby case, which came to prominence well before the cultural reckoning surrounding power and sexual misconduct ushered in by the #MeToo movement, will notably now take place within it. This is something that Cosby seems aware of, recently telling a female reporter, “Please don’t put me on #MeToo,” after shaking her hand during a dinner with friends earlier this month in Philadelphia.
After Cosby’s performance on Monday, a local reporter asked Cosby if he thought the #MeToo moment would affect his trial. According to the reporter, Cosby shrugged animatedly, “put on a goofy smile,” and simply said, “I don’t know!”